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The Continental Divide x 3

Oh man! Three continental divide crossings in a day, what a slog-fest! I almost regretted not having arrived in the town of Lincoln a week earlier as a forest-fire had closed the route and would have forced me to ride a flatter detour on asphalt. The local Park Ranger had been given the instruction to start a prescribed burn and she somehow thought it smart to start a fire in 45mph winds. It went to wild-fire pretty quick requiring an extra couple of hundred fire-fighters from Canada to help control the blaze. The poor Park Ranger was made appear on TV and make a statement of apology. Ouch! My guess is that she was scape-goated. The blaze was likely started in the morning before the wind picked up but that is still no excuse when local forecasts are so accurate. She was so stressed from the whole ordeal that she almost quit her job but in the end she stayed to the relief of the locals as in normal circumstances she is considered a great asset to the town.

As I climbed Stemple Pass it seemed that the trees had more than just fire to worry about. There is a pine beetle epidemic that has spread all over the western side of the Rockies. These pine beetles infest the forests and lay larvae inside tree-trunks that prevents a tree from accessing its root-system for water and nutrients. The result is that ever-greens turn ever-brown as they die-off. For people who love forests it is considered a real tragedy. Normally severe winters kill off the pine beetle but the last three winters have not been sufficiently cold enough allowing for their population to swell. It needs to be at least minus 20 degrees for consecutive weeks for the pine beetle to die off. Regardless, it is not a total disaster as the beetles don't feed on Firs or Spruce so it is expected that these will make up the next forests as they clear the pines before they become tinder for lightening-storms.

At the bottom of the climb I bumped into two guys on BMW dirt touring-bikes. One of them  was wrenching his bike as he had flooded it trying to climb the pass. The precautionary drenching the forest had taken from the fire had made for some massive puddles on the trail. His bike had cut-out riding through one and so the two of them were now trying to dry it out before calling for back-up if still required. The smug smile on my face due to my motor-less bicycle at the start of the climb soon turned into a pained grimace half-way up it. Not much later I was cursing not having a motor at all. Being more nimble than a laden motor-bike it was possible for me to side-track through the woods to avoid the deep puddles, however, there is nothing to do but walk and push your bike in the face of steep rocky sections. Riding an unloaded mountain-bike up a steep rocky section is one of the more technical aspects of mountain-biking. A loaded tourer simply can't handle this as the weight of the front-panniers causes all sorts of steering problems as you try to counter-act the forced steering that slipping through hard loose rock causes. The Tour divide racers would not suffer as much as I did as they are much lighter. I was fast realising that the Tour Divide route tries where possible to take the hardest pass over a mountain. I'm not certain if I enjoy doing stadium sprints in the middle of what is a marathon. Regardless, like always, I got there in the end.

Thankfully Stemple Pass was the hardest of the three divide crossings that day. The next climb was still a fair bit of work but at least I didn't have to dismount and push. The final 3k climb over Priest Pass was a speed-bump in comparison and so I managed to pull up short of Helena with plenty of daylight left to set-up camp in the woods. Helena, the state capital, has a population of 25,000 and is the biggest town that I have been in for a while. Thus, I spent the day catching up on errands and trying to catch my breath!

'til soon


atop the Continental Divide

the woodsman

the pine beetle effect on Stemple Pass

it's an epidemic - all the brown trees are dead

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